Firefox 4 is nearly complete. The next version of the venerable web browser introduces dozens of new features — everything from built-in bookmark syncing to hardware acceleration — but it also removes a few noteworthy features as well.
The now-departed status bar — which has been replaced by the add-ons bar — isn’t the only thing that’s been relegated to dustbin in Firefox 4. The familiar RSS icon in the URL bar is gone as well.
RSS has a long, complicated history and, despite its usefulness to the web at large, it just never caught on with mainstream users. RSS may power much of the web behind the scenes, but from a user’s point of view it remains an awkward tool with a terrible user interface. As Firefox developer Leslie Orchard points out, clicking the old Firefox RSS button would give you “a plainly-styled version of what you were probably already looking at on a site.” Of course, if you knew what you were doing, you could quickly either create a live bookmark or add the RSS feed to a feed reader. But for the uninitiated, the UI was confusing enough that Orchard says “some people would think they broke the page when the button was clicked on accident.”
According to Mozilla’s user study the RSS icon was clicked by a scant 3 percent of users. The only thing more neglected is the scroll left button, which is only present on very wide websites. With no one using the button, Firefox designers decided to remove it from the increasingly cluttered URL bar.
Cue the outrage and pleading for its return.
But just because the RSS button has lost its former position in the toolbar doesn’t mean you can’t easily subscribe to RSS feeds in Firefox 4. There’s a new menu option under the Bookmarks menu that will offer to “Subscribe to this page” and you can also add a subscribe button to your toolbar if you like. Just head to the customize option under the View menu and you’ll see a new toolbar button for RSS feed. Drag that button to the toolbar and you’ve restored the RSS button.
Given that seemingly no one used to original button, removing it hardly seems a bad thing, especially when it’s easy to get it back.